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Dancing is best exercise to combat depression new study shows

Updated: Apr 14



Article from The Independent

By Olivia Hebert

Fri, 23 February 2024 at 11:24 am AEDT·3-min read


New research has shown that dancing is a more effective treatment for depression than antidepressants or therapy.


Australian researchers have published a study that shows that the best form of exercise to treat depression is dancing, beating out several exercises including walking or jogging, yoga, tai chi, and strength training among others. The study aimed to identify what kind of exercise would be best for treating major depressive disorder, either in tandem or compared to the prescription of psychotherapy, and antidepressants.

Through 218 different studies with 14,170 participants, the researchers found that moderate reductions were made across the board with exercise, more so than simply prescribing participants with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Dancing stood at the top of the data charts in terms of the largest reductions in depression symptoms, while exercises like walking or jogging, yoga, and aerobic exercise with therapy were runners-up. In different demographics, the effects of exercises and standard treatment differed.

In women, strength and cycling appeared to reduce more symptoms; however, men were more affected by yoga, tai chi, and aerobic exercise alongside psychotherapy. Older participants experienced symptom reductions when prescribed yoga and aerobic exercise alongside psychotherapy, while younger participants were more affected by strength training. However, dance overall was the form of exercise that consistently improved the symptoms of those with depression.

The study has begun to make its rounds online, with some finding it “beautiful” that dancing could be so effective and powerful. Scientist and author Erik Hoel posted one of the study’s data charts on X, formerly known as Twitter, writing that the study’s conclusion hid one of the most interesting discoveries.


“They buried the lede on this new study,” he wrote. “It’s not that exercise beats out SSRIs for depression treatment, but that just dancing has the largest effect of any treatment for depression. That’s kind of beautiful.”

“It’s fascinating that something as simple as dancing can hold such power over our mental health,” one person added below the post. “Makes you wonder how many other traditional forms of healing we overlook in modern medicine.”


Even X owner Elon Musk chimed in, saying: “Maybe I should try that.”


Psych Central says that the mere act of dancing can lead to benefits such as increased neurotransmitter activity in your brain as well as improved self-esteem and enhanced mindfulness. They cited past studies that also found that dancing can take those with depression out of their heads, away from rumination and distressing cyclical thoughts, and ground them in the present. The endorphins and social connection that often arise from dancing also lead to generally improved moods.


Dancing can reportedly act as a form of somatic therapy, a kind of therapy that relies on bodily movement for emotional release. Whether it’s dancing alone in your room to your favourite song, or on the dance floor surrounded by friends and strangers alike, it turns out dancing might be a lot more powerful than we’ve come to believe.


Read Full research article here: Effect of exercise for depression: systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. The bmj (British Medical Journal)

Related article here: the Happiness Syndrome of Dance

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